In America we stand for liberty, and freedom to offend, to provoke, to persuade, and to defy. — Megyn Kelly
Though she is a news anchor, she is very much in the news these days. She is the object of a national discussion about women. And it all stemmed from a pointed, polite, and entirely appropriate question she posed to the most outspoken candidate currently seeking to be President of the United States.
Her calling card: Feisty, informed, incredulous, and quick-witted. Make of her what you will — too conservative, too blond, or maybe too tough on the likes of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Donald Trump. As for the Trump flap, Ms. Kelly stood her free-press ground: ““I certainly will not apologize for doing good journalism, so I’ll continue doing my job without fear or favor,” she told viewers of The Kelly File. By the same journalistic measure, recall Ms. Kelly’s skepticism, which proved to be founded, concerning Duke University’s alleged sexual assault incident.
However you cast her, there is also this: Megyn Kelly is bullish on the First Amendment. While we still need to hear more from her on any variety of free-speech issues, what we do know at this point is that she is a woman who yields no ground when it come to our First Freedom.
[N]o matter how abhorrent one might find another’s words, in this country, we defend their right to say them. Standing up for that principle is not an endorsement of the controversial speech. It is promoting a value at the very core of who we are. — Megyn Kelly
There’s a spark of Nat Hentoff in her steadfast commitment to free speech. Just consider her response to a claim made by TV critic Howard Kurtz: “There’s a reason free speech is in Amendment number one. It goes to the core of our principles as Americans and what we stand for. You can hate the message, you can hate everything they’re saying … that is allowed in the United States of America, because, as the Supreme Court once put it, the answer to speech you do not like is not less speech. It’s more speech,”
When it comes to free speech, the TV news anchor and commentator is willing to go toe-to-toe with anyone, even if that someone is Bill O’Reilly: “The relevnt question is not [whether] those under attack say something offensive, the relevnt question is what we do about a group that wants to kill us for exercising our contitutional rights.” (See also here)
Before the recent Trump flap, she gave the blustery billionaire a civics lesson: “What do we stand for as Americans if not freedom of speech and the ability to express yourself?”
Not surprisingly, some in the First Amendment community are taking note of Ms. Kelly and her views on free speech.
Nadine Strossen: “As a law professor, I join Prof. Alan Dershowitz in awarding Megyn Kelly an A for her solid understanding of core First Amendment principles that Justices across the ideological spectrum have consistently upheld. As a civil libertarian, I award her an A+ for her fearless, impassioned, and eloquent defense of those principles when too many others – also across the ideological spectrum – seek to trim back our First Amendment rights in response to what the Supreme Court has called “the heckler’s veto,” but what Megyn has correctly referred to as “the assassin’s veto.”
Robert Corn-Revere: “Megyn Kelly provides a clear and consistent reminder that the right to free expression includes the right to offend, and, in fact, that right cannot exist when some assert a right not to be offended. Ms. Kelly recognizes that the role of some people in the marketplace of ideas may be mainly to serve as bad examples – but that is the only way the system can work effectively. Everyone should have their say, and people will choose what ideas to accept or to reject.”
“Kelly speaks in a jazz-improv progression of italics, all-caps and boldface.” That is how Jim Rutenberg portrayed her in a recent and lengthy New York Times magazine profile titled “The Megyn Kelly Moment.” There is truth there provided one adds the word informed.
When it comes to free speech, her passion tracks her informed grasp of her subject. Simply consider her exchange with Richard Fowler when they were discussing the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest: “The more offensive speech is, Richard, the more protection it needs. That’s how the First Amendment works. We can defend the First Amendment right to say it without aligning ourselves with the message.” She took exception, strong exception, to notion that Americans should be squeamish or apologetic about their exercise of their First Amendment rights. She took even strainer exception to those who counseled otherwise.
In much the same vein, she took the Catholic League’s President, Bill Donohue, to task over his criticism of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. With finger pointed and eyes scanning, she quoted approvingly from Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s 1988 majority opinion in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell: “[T]he freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty – and thus a good unto itself – but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole.” [quoting Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc. (1984)]
In a May 7, 2015 program, Kelly found a First Amendment ally in UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh. At the outset of that program she was emphatic: “The terrorist point was to shut us up, not just the organizers of the [Draw Muhammed Cartoon Contest] but also any American who danes to disagree with their way of life or thinking. . . . In this country we have every right to say what we want to say about Muhammed or about anyone else for that matter.” Volokh agreed: “People are free to engage in much more offensive speech than that.” He went on to explain how the contours of modern free speech law were consistent with Ms. Kelly’s views and how such speech had value as “a reaffirmation of our free speech rights . . . “
Will her commitment continue? Will she vacillate when other tough First Amendment issues are presented to her? Who knows? That said, it seems likely that Ms. Kelly will become an even grander figure in the world of free speech in the days and months ahead.
→ See here for a listing of Ms. Kelly’s various comments concerning the First Amendment.
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